Tegra 3 Supercomputer Aims to be 3 Times as Efficient as IBM's Blue Gene
April 4, 2012 1:00 PM
Barcelona-based design also uses NVIDIA low-power GPUs, similar to current integrated laptop designs
Apple Inc.'s (
hot new A5X processor
found in the third-generation iPad gave NVIDIA's (
Tegra 3 chip
a run for its money,
blowing it away in graphics tests
. However, in CPU tests, NVIDIA's higher clocked processor -- which
uses licensed Cortex-A9 IP (intellectual property) cores
from ARM Holding plc (
) -- felled its fruity foe.
I. Mont-Blanc is an Energy-Efficient Powerhouse
Thus it's not surprising that
The Barcelona Supercomputer Center
(BSC), an internationally renowned supercomputing center, turned to the Tegra 3 when they were looking for a lightweight processor to serve the role of communications mediator in a new energy-efficient GPU computing design.
The new Spanish supercomputer will be dubbed "Mont-Blanc".
In the new design, the bulk of computation will be carried out using either OpenGL or NVIDIA's proprietary CUDA API, with kernels (pieces of parallel work) running on unannounced NVIDIA low-power GPUs (the center says are similar to the
GeForce GT 520MX
). The GPUs will likely be based on the
(GeForce 600 series), which proved extremely energy-efficient in
But something will need to ferry data to the GPU, while performing I/O between GPU-enabled computing units and offloading results to storage devices. That something will be the Tegra 3.
Tegra 3 chip package and die image [Image Source: AnandTech]
While the typical Xeons gobbles 50 to 100 watts, the Tegra 3s in Mont-Blanc are expected consume around 4 watts when loaded. The finished design is expected to pack anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 processors inside, along with corresponding GPUs.
The BSC project aims to become the first ARM-powered supercomputer to make the
of supercomputers, which is currently topped by
Japan's 10.5 petaflop "K computer."
However, the BSC aims to be at the very top of another newer list -- the
, a list measuring the world's most
That list is currently topped by International Business Machines, Inc.'s (
Blue Gene computer
at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center, which can do 2 quadrillion calculations per second (2 gigaflops) per watt. Mont-Blanc aims to earn 7 gigaflops per watt, making it more than three times as energy-efficient as any design in the world today.
Alex Ramirez, product manager at BSC who's working on the project, in an interview with
, "Instead of using very few — but very big performance — processors… we’re going to be using a lot of very low-power — but middle performance — processors."
II. Tegra ARMv8-powered Successor Design Aims to Top Top500
But Mr. Ramirez's team is far from finished when they complete the lightweight design sometime in the next couple years. They're already planning its successor, a next generation design, which will be build on NVIDIA's
64-bit ARMv8 instruction set Stark series
(or possibly a later variant).
That 64-bit design is aimed at becoming the world's most powerful supercomputer, with a planned processing power of 200 petaflops (twenty times the K Computer's capacity). That design will be completed in 2017 (approximately), according to plans shared with
A new 64-bit design to launch in 2017 will be even beastlier than Mont-Blanc.
[Image Source: Flickr/pirinenc]
ARM Holdings itself has
in pushing out power-efficient ARM servers to IT users. However, its focus remains on its core markets -- smartphones, tablets, and embedded devices -- as well as its
push into the personal computer space
. Stated new ARM president Simon Segars last month, "Supercomputers, for ARM, is not a high volume market,” he said. “It’s not something we spend a lot of time talking about. Ours is a business that is royalty and unit driven, so we’re interested in high-volume markers."
For now, he says, ARM supercomputers are an "interesting" diversion, but not a business focus.
"A lot of people pay zero for the cellphone ... That's what it's worth." -- Apple Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cook
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